Here’s a sign that our reporting on a grade-changing scandal and the intense pressure on schools to perform or shut down have entered the public consciousness: Law & Order used the storyline last night.
Returning to NBC’s 10 pm spot, the series debuted “Boy on Fire” last night, a story that (judging by the sudden flood of emails I got) seemed to strike a chord with the city’s public school teachers. I didn’t catch the episode, but those who did report that it bore some similarities to the case of grade-changing at Herbert Lehman High School in the Bronx, where the executive principal who was hired with a $25,000 bonus is still under investigation for changing grades in order to boost the school’s graduation rate.
One big difference is that Lehman’s principal, Janet Saraceno, isn’t tangled up in a murder mystery. On the show, detectives find that the principal, played by Debra Winger, altered the transcripts of students who are suspected of murdering a charter school student (possible motive: educational jealousy). The principal defends the grade changes, saying if she doesn’t make the school look successful, the city will close it down.
In a decision that could only be made on TV, the assistant district attorney arrests the principal for grand larceny, alleging that because she spent millions to graduate students who weren’t actually passing their classes, she’d denied them an education and robbed the city. Needless to say, the charges are dismissed.